CODY — Cody Nite Rodeo received approval Monday to hold the event with 600 spectators beginning June 15.
Stampede Board President Mike Darby said Monday it would tentatively start June 20.
Marc Thompson, a director on the Cody Stampede Board said an exemption was submitted Friday afternoon.
According to Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin, that variance request is for a total of 600 spectators, with 300 allowed on each grandstand.
Gov. Mark Gordon spoke on KODI radio Friday morning.
“We’ve always wanted to make sure Cody had the Nite Rodeo opportunity,” Gordon said.
Thompson said a first exemption request to hold the Nite Rodeo that had been approved at the county level was denied by the state the same day it was submitted Wednesday.
However, Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health, said Dr. Alexia Harrist, health officer for the state, did not formally deny the variance request submitted to hold Nite Rodeo by June 1 with 750 spectators or less, but rather indicated on Wednesday a “strong preference” for sticking to the 250-limit until June 15.
“My reasoning is that a gathering of 250 people is a large jump in the gathering sizes that we are allowing ... just two weeks ago, the gathering limits were at less than 10 people,” Harrist told Thompson in an email. “I really think that we need some time to make sure these smaller event sizes don’t lead to outbreaks before we increase that number further, because the more people there are the more difficult it is to ensure that people aren’t congregating.”
Previously, it had been indicated that Nite Rodeo would not start until June 15, which is when the current order expires.
But Harrist told Thompson she was under the understanding the exemption request was made in regards to having the rodeo start immediately on June 1, and Deti said an email accompanying the exemption request also stated this.
But the Nite Rodeo has been planning for June 15 for awhile, as the rodeo’s stock contractor Maury Tate, said on Wednesday he is still in his native Oklahoma, waiting on word to come to Cody.
Within the first exemption were statistics on the COVID-19 infection rates in Park County and plans for how the Stampede Board would enforce sanitation and social distancing at the rodeo grounds, ticketing areas, seating, exits, concessions, restrooms, among contestants and rodeo personnel.
Jim Facinelli, a director on the Stampede Board, said the Nite Rodeo typically gets around 800-1,000 fans a night.
“We can social distance with all those people if we do it right,” he said.
Although he questioned the severity of the COVID-19 virus, Facinelli did say the possibility of a tourist bringing the disease to Cody concerns him.
“All it takes is one person coming in,” he said.
Thompson also said a variance has been submitted for the Stampede parade, which Deti said Harrist has received but not acted on yet.
A “Time to Fight for Rodeo” petition was made on Change.org by Nikki Tate on Thursday, for people to show support for CNR and signing of the variance. As of 10:45 a.m. Monday morning, more than 10,375 people had signed it.
Although he did not take responsibility for making the final decision to cancel the Stampede or the state’s five other largest rodeos, Gordon did say his health restrictions came into significant play.
“At this job I take a lot of arrows. We wanted to make sure events were handled safely,” he said. “Others felt like it was not possible to do.”
Gordon said the Hulett, Wyoming Rodeo is still on in mid-June and the Forever West Professional Bull Riders event Sheridan last weekend ran but was closed to the public.
“We’re trying to have a rodeo, at least a Nite Rodeo,” Facinelli said.
The Stampede Board will make an announcement soon about the official plan for Nite Rodeo. Thompson also said Friday morning the Stampede is not yet cancelled and the Board is working on an exemption request for this event.
He said for this event to run, it would be dependent on approval and the requirements mandated by Harrist.
Tate said he is unsure about when the nightly rodeo will begin, but he said they will still push for it to happen.
“We’re planning on doing a Nite Rodeo, whether it’s on the (June) 15, (July) 1, or whatever. We’re planning to go ahead with it,” Tate said. “We’re determined to have it whether we’re allowed to have 200 or 2,000 people there.”
Tate is still in his native Apache, Okla., waiting for the official green light to make his way to Cody, but said he would need less than two weeks to adequately prepare for the Nite Rodeo production.
“We’re getting pretty close to that,” he said with a chuckle. “This thing’s a mess.”